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50 years of French-German friendship

by Jerome a Paris Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 06:38:02 AM EST

The FT journalists get it largely right:

Gérard Errera, former secretary-general of the French foreign ministry, sees it as a constant tension: "The constraint on the Franco-German relationship is that we are different on everything - our institutions, our history, our culture - and we don't always understand each other. Yet, we have to agree to make Europe work. So it always requires huge efforts to achieve compromises."

A senior German diplomat sees it in much the same way: "Franco-German co-operation is counterintuitive. There is a common misperception that France and Germany are doing things together because we want to. That's rubbish," he says. "We are different on every choice of substance between us, whether it is free trade versus protectionism, creating a strategic defence industry or being complementary with the Americans, or what we put on the table: beer or wine.

"But only if these two starting points can be reconciled is there a chance of moving Europe forwards."

I was glad to see that position (the Franco-German relationship works because it starts from so far apart and the two countries have decided that they need to reach a compromise nevertheless; if they ca nagree, the compromise will likely be tolerable to most other Europeans, not because they are less important, but because their own starting position is most often somewhere in-between), which I've oft repeated, being given such a prominent place in the FT's full page on the anniversary.


And they publish, at the same time, French and German commenters that seem to focus on all the wrong things:

François Heisbourg says he is deeply struck by the loss of Franco-German intimacy

Yet if happiness has become impossible, divorce is quite improbable, and for the most banal reasons. Splitting would be costly and is best avoided for the sake of the "children" (the European pTaggedroject). Abandoning the exclusivity of the relationship would force each partner to build ad hoc coalitions for every initiative in an uncongenial, EU-wide context of economic recession and political acrimony. Both countries would pay an enormous price were the euro and the EU to collapse - and, without French-German convergence, such an implosion becomes more likely.

(...)

Yet the real game-changer could come from the third big EU player: Britain. If the UK left, France would find herself locked into a situation in which Germany's distinctive strategic culture and security policy would prevail. This would not be easy to accept for the French, who continue, like the British, to have their own views on international security and the use of force. France could then be tempted to balance the German centre through the systematic practice of countervailing coalitions with the other members of the EU. And, with that, the spirit of the Elysée treaty would be irrevocably lost.

(Not surprising, I suppose, from a guy focusing on military affairs)

Berlin and Paris need a relationship reset; writes Joachim Bitterlich

... Yet this cannot mask the fact that the relationship appears to be in a deep crisis. Never have the rifts appeared so deep and wide. Behind this are the fundamental changes that have swept the world over the past 20 years.

Parts of the French political class still do not seem to have grasped the recasting of Europe brought about by the reunification of Germany and the continent at large - a development that robbed them of their special status with regard to their neighbour. Some view a Germany that is more free in expressing and defending its national interests as a return to Bismarck's balance-of-power strategy. Understandably, this is not a pleasant prospect.

Another reason lies in economics, where the difference between a strong Germany and a France in progressive decline is striking. In this regard, France is the most worrying nation in Europe today. Germany needs a neighbour with a strong economy, not an inferiority complex. If "power" is a taboo concept in Germany, in France it is terms such as "German model", "competitiveness" and "globalisation".

No wonder, then, that the nations' responses to the financial crisis are so different. For Germans, saving and "intelligent austerity" are the correct means to growth. To Paris, this is an unworkable idea that could only come from Berlin. But the French solution, mutualising the debt, is no better.

(to be fair, Mr Bitterlich, the former national security adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, then moves to a more optimistic take and offers some possible solutions, but the diagnosis is still to some extent depressing)

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European Tribune - 50 years of French-German friendship
In this regard, France is the most worrying nation in Europe today. Germany needs a neighbour with a strong economy, not an inferiority complex. If "power" is a taboo concept in Germany, in France it is terms such as "German model", "competitiveness" and "globalisation".

Another point of view says that Germany is the most worrying nation in Europe today, because its export-economy model is based on beggaring its neighbours. That France (and other EZ countries) need a neighbour with less of a superiority complex, and a strong economy much more solidly based on domestic demand. In point of fact, the terms "German model", "competitiveness", and "globalisation" are not taboo in France, they are constantly repeated by the punditry and the politicians and magnified by the media (example, Hollande next to Merkel before "German youth" yesterday saying that France had a "competitiveness" problem that needed to be fixed).

But if "power" is a taboo term in Germany (I don't know, but haven't seen much reference to German debate around the concept) it's about time that changed. Germany is currently exercising exhorbitant power within the Eurozone, and refusing to recognize any problem other than "they're not doing their homework".

Sorry, but the current celebrations have no more serious basis as far as I can see than the old Merkozy circus.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 03:48:58 AM EST
Arnaud Leparmentier, in Suddeutsche Zeitung reposted in Le Monde, outlines some elements of German "hegemonism".


After giving the banking union and the competitiveness contracts as examples of Germany attempting to impose rules on others as long as they don't apply to Germany, he says:

Traité de l'Elysée : hégémonisme allemand | Le Monde Elysée Treaty: German hegemonism | Le Monde
Second reproche, l'Allemagne interromprait brutalement les règles de l'Ordnungspolitik lorsque le jeu lui est défavorable. Ainsi en est-il de l'aéronautique et du spatial, où les compétences sont plus françaises et britanniques. La loi du marché aurait dû conduire à la concentration d'EADS dans ces deux pays, mais Angela Merkel, comme Gerhard Schröder, a voulu protéger les usines bavaroises et hambourgeoises. La chancelière a ainsi mis son veto au projet de fusion avec British Aerospace notamment par - osons le mot - protectionnisme allemand.Second reproach, Germany brutally interrupts the rules of Ordnungspolitik when the game isn't in its favour. That's how it is in the aeronautics and space sector, where the French and British have greater competence. The law of the market should have led to EADS concentration in these two countries, but Angela Merkel, like Gerhard Schröder, wanted to protect the Bavarian and Hamburg factories. The chancellor thus vetoed the merger with British Aerospace notably out of -- let's dare use the term -- German protectionism.
Les Allemands sont moins performants en aéronautique, mais exigent, du fait de leur taille, la moitié du gâteau. Ce discours serait tenable s'il valait pour tous les secteurs. Ce n'est pas le cas, selon les Français, qui accusent les groups automobiles allemands, à commencer par Volkswagen, de vouloir " sortir du marché " le groupe Peugeot effectivement moribond.Germans are less efficient in aeronautics, but require, based on their size, half the pie. This discourse would be tenable if it was true for all sectors. This is not the case, according to the French, who accuse the German automobile groups, starting with Volkswagen, of seeking to get the in fact moribond Peugeot group "out of the market".
L'Europe ne peut pas se construire sur le principe que les usines allemandes sont protégées, celles des autres soumises à la destruction créatrice du capitalisme. Faute de quoi, le principe même de l'union douanière sera remis en cause.Europe cannot be built on the principle that German factories are protected, those of other countries subjected to the creative destruction of capitalism. Otherwise, the very principle of the customs union will be challenged.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 05:10:03 AM EST
Another aspect of German intransigence: determination to keep the euro high, even if the resulting terms of trade are disadvantageous to other EZ countries (one of France's "competitiveness" problems):

Jens Weidmann warns of a currency war

What do you expect? If you oppose lower interest rates, and asset purchase programmes, as Jens Weidmann has done, it should not come as a surprise that the ECB's monetary policies are now the hardest, relative to all the other major central banks. The Financial Times reports that Weidmann is now warning that the erosion of central bank independence would unleash a round of competitive devaluations. He said there have been several recent examples of an erosion of central bank independence, most notably in Hungary and now in Japan. Whether intended or not, one consequence is an increasing politicisation of the exchange rate, he said.

(Eurointelligence, daily briefing by e-mail)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 05:15:55 AM EST
Reuters quotes the head of Germany's foreign trade association, Anton Boerner, saying he feared the policies of the BoJ would drive the euro-dollar rate up to €1.40, and yet even at this level German exports would remain competitive.


(We think he is probably right, but in that case we should internal eurozone imbalances to get worse, because nobody else's ex-eurozone exports will be competitive under this exchange rate.)

Eurointelligence daily e-mail briefing, my bold.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jan 23rd, 2013 at 03:55:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One of the factors behind the Irish boom and bust which I don't often see referenced outside Ireland, is that the ECB insisted on maintaining low interest rates at the height of the Irish boom, when higher interest rates would have been much more appropriate and would have helped deflate the property bubble. This was done at the behest of the Germans, whose own economy was struggling to grow.

When you combine this with the complete failure of the EC ad ECB to regulate the Single Market in banking and financial services they were so actively foisting on the Irish authorities - so much so that the Irish regulator thought that his "light touch" approach was what the EU actually wanted - you have to assign at least some European (=German) co-responsibility for the Irish boom and crash which followed.

One doesn't have to deny the stupidity of the Irish Government's bank guarantee to also acknowledge that the Irish authorities thought they were doing European banks a favour by guaranteeing their heavy exposure to Irish banks and thus helping to prevent the Irish banking collapse from infecting European (mostly) banks more generally.

France is not the only country that views German hegemony with dread, particularly if the UK were to withdraw even further from the EU. But that is not to say that a Germany and allies versus the rest would be a balanced or productive re-alignment either.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 07:33:45 AM EST
I was glad to see that position (the Franco-German relationship works because it starts from so far apart and the two countries have decided that they need to reach a compromise nevertheless; if they ca nagree, the compromise will likely be tolerable to most other Europeans, not because they are less important, but because their own starting position is most often somewhere in-between), which I've oft repeated, being given such a prominent place in the FT's full page on the anniversary.

I'm reminded of a Lewis Black standup routine in which he described bipartisanship as a Republican standing up and saying, "I have a really bad idea!"  Followed by a Democrat standing up and saying, "And I can make it shittier!"

Perhaps historically true that the relationship has worked because of ideological balance and compromise, but it doesn't appear that way right now.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 07:56:04 AM EST
Bitterlich:

 If "power" is a taboo concept in Germany, in France it is terms such as "German model", "competitiveness" and "globalisation".

So much silliness in one sentence. Power as concept anathema to Germans? Tell that to unemployed Spaniards or shivering Greeks. Present EU austerity policy is all about German power projection. This is to laugh. And, if "German model" is looked upon with such disdain, is it something particularly French or, rather, something bourne of the natural scepticism one feels when one recalls the glorification of the "anglo-american model" a decade ago, or the "japanese model" a generation ago, both of which proved every bit of a bust as today's supposed "German model" will prove. And, as for competitiveness, who can forget that but 10 years ago, it was Germany the sick man of Europe, not the PIIGS. Of course, back then the ECB was charting a course in the sick man's interest, as it continues to do today: again, this is another aspect of German power projection.

The amount of bullshit in one sentence is breathtaking.

by redstar on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 08:05:02 AM EST
More Bitterlich:

But the French solution, mutualising the debt, is no better.
 

As is usual for a member of the Germal political elite, he never really gets round to saying why this is so. (or, if they do, not ever in an economically literate way.)
by redstar on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 08:10:29 AM EST
He, along with the rest of The Gang, has bought into the idea an economy is a Zero Sum Game: a player can only win if another player loses.  Stated baldly, like this, it's very easy to see it is nonsense.  Therefore, it can't be stated baldly.  So Bitterlich, et. al., go around hiding their nonsense in a maze of polysyllabic obfuscatory persiflage.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot
by ATinNM on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 12:28:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
69 years ago, my father came back to France after 3 years as a prisoner of war, thanks to la Relève (1 PoW released for 3 qualified workers who accepted to go to Germany). He immediatly joined the French Résistance and fought the German army in the Alps. A few months later, my uncle was arrested by the Gestapo (he was secretary of the National Council of the Resistance) and sent to Dachau concentration camp.


Just a couple of years later, in spite of - and because of - what they had experienced, both of them were involved in the Frenco-German friendship movement that led to what we celebrate today. Indeed, in 1963 my uncle was the French Parliament reporter for the Elysée Treaty. And both of them remained strong supporters of the European Project until the end of their lives.

So, despite Merkozy and Merkollande, I still think it makes sense to celebrate the Franco-German friendship, and to wish it will last for many more decades.

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 10:13:28 AM EST
There are excellent reasons for celebrating it, if only they did not appear, today, to be reasons of the past... To be clear, the friendship is no longer there, along with the admirable people who set out to put an end to the murderous enmity that had prevailed for decades before.

As for the future, I agree with your wish. Let's hope.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 10:59:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jean Quatremer is far from being a cynical Eurosceptic, yet here's the close of his piece today in Libération (from his blog):


Des désaccords franco-allemand qui plombent l'Union - Coulisses de Bruxelles Franco-German disagreements weigh the Union down - Brussels Backstage
Cette incapacité franco-allemande à trouver un compromis se traduit par une forte révision à la baisse des ambitions européennes. Plus question d'un budget conséquent, alors même que la crise de la zone euro a montré que les transferts financiers étaient une condition sine qua non de la survie de la monnaie unique, plus question de fédéralisme et de solidarité financière, alors que les marchés jugent ce saut nécessaire pour leur garantir la pérennité de l'euro. Ce coup de frein est pour le moins préoccupant, la crise étant loin d'être terminée, même si les menaces pesant directement sur la monnaie unique se sont dissipées grâce à l'action de la Banque centrale européenne (BCE) qui a annoncé, le 26 juillet, qu'elle était prête à « faire tout ce qui est nécessaire pour préserver l'euro ». Mais, comme le reconnaît l'un des membres du directoire, le Belge Peter Praet, la BCE n'a fait que « gagner du temps ». Un gel de l'intégration pour cause de désaccord franco-allemand ne peut que préparer la prochaine crise, avec les conséquences économiques et humaines désastreuses auxquelles on assiste, les déséquilibres de la zone euro, notamment sur le plan démocratique, étant loin d'être corrigés.This Franco-German failure to find a compromise results in a strong downscaling of European ambitions. No question of a budget at the level of needs, even though the Eurozone crisis has shown that financial transfers are a sine que non for the survival of the single currency, no question of federalism and financial solidarity, though the markets consider this leap forward necessary to guarantee the perennity of the euro. This slowdown is to say the least worrisome, the crisis being far from over, even if the direct threats to the single currency have been dispersed by the action of the European Central Bank (ECB) which announced, July 26, that it was prepared to do everything necessary to defend the euro. But as one of the board members, the Belgian Peter Praet, recognizes, the ECB has only gained time. An integration freeze due to Franco-German disagreement can only prepare the next crisis, with the disastrous economic and human consequences that we are seeing -- the imbalances of the euro area, particularly concerning democracy, being far from being corrected.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 11:57:27 AM EST
"Defend the Euro?"  From what, exactly?

The choice of words is highly illuminating.

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 12:29:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My translation, my fault. The French is "preserve" or "save". Reference to monetarising debt.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 12:40:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The actual words were:
But there is another message I want to tell you.

Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.

There are some short-term challenges, to say the least. The short-term challenges in our view relate mostly to the financial fragmentation that has taken place in the euro area. Investors retreated within their national boundaries. The interbank market is not functioning. It is only functioning very little within each country by the way, but it is certainly not functioning across countries.

(Speech by Mario Draghi at the Global Investment Conference in London, 26 July 2012)


I distribute. You re-distribute. He gives your hard-earned money to lazy scroungers. -- JakeS
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 22nd, 2013 at 12:41:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
as evidenced by the snazzy new layout of eurotrib.com ;)

Hey, Grandma Moses started late!
by LEP on Wed Jan 23rd, 2013 at 10:21:57 AM EST
From this side of the pond, Germany and France look about as different as, say, Pennsylvania and Missouri.
by asdf on Wed Jan 23rd, 2013 at 03:55:40 PM EST
More like Ohio and North Carolina.

It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Thu Jan 24th, 2013 at 05:43:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Come on, they are as different as South and North Dakota.
by IM on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 12:30:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
South Dakota capital: Pierre
North Dakota capital: Bismarck
by Bernard on Fri Jan 25th, 2013 at 04:33:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You see?
by IM on Sat Jan 26th, 2013 at 12:41:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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